Series Review: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

BOOK STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Lord of the Rings
Author: J.R.R. Tolkein
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobooks
Narrator: Rob Inglis
Publisher: Recorded Books
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: high fantasy, detailed backstory

1. The Fellowship of the Ring
Pub. Date: July 29, 1954
Length: 19 hours
Rating: ☆☆☆

2. The Two Towers
Pub. Date: November 11, 1954
Length: 17 hours
Rating: ☆☆☆.5

3. The Return of the King
Pub. Date: October 20, 1955
Length: 18 hours
Rating: ☆☆☆.5

BOOK ONE SYNOPSIS

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkeness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

MY THOUGHTS

After 15 years since I first attempted to read this series, I finally finished it. I am very glad that I read it. But y’all. I just don’t get it.

Tolkein gets an A+ for his world building, which is truly outstanding, but a C for execution. Tolkein loves to develop backstory through long songs and verses to deliver the history of Middle Earth, and that just doesn’t do it for me. These books are so long, and not enough happens. Fellowship is actually boring, and while the subsequent books have more action, adventure, and focus on current character development rather than past events, I still wanted more. I liked the characters and the world, and I appreciate what Tolkein did for fantasy, but I just don’t understand why LOTR is the be-all-end-all of high fantasy. I liked it, but I don’t love it. I really wanted to, but I just don’t. Someone help me understand what I’m missing because I don’t want to give up my fantasy lover card!

I did enjoy the audiobook productions! The narrator had the perfect voice for this story, and he even sang all of the many songs! I thought the singing was fun, even though it made me feel uncomfortable when I was listening to the audiobook in public.

Series Review: The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan

BOOK STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Trials of Apollo
Author: Rick Riodan
Genre: Fantasy/Mythology
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Audiobooks
Narrator: Robbie Daymond
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; Listening Library
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of: Percy Jackson, The Heroes of Olympus, Greek Mythology
Content Warnings: violence, death

#1 The Hidden Oracle
Pub. Date: May 3, 2016
Length: 13 hours (375 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

#2 The Dark Prophecy
Pub. Date: May 2, 2017
Length: 12 hours (414 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

#3 The Burning Maze
Pub. Date: May 1, 2018
Length: 13 hours (448 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

#4 The Tyrant’s Tomb
Pub. Date: September 24, 2019
Length: 13 hours (439 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

#5 The Tower of Nero
Pub. Date: October 6, 2020
Length: 12 hours (410 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

BOOK ONE SYNOPSIS

How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favour.

But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go… an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

MY THOUGHTS

Even though this is Rick Riordan’s third Greek mythology series, he keeps it fresh by making the main character Apollo cursed into the body of a mortal teenager rather than a demigod. Like The Heroes of Olympus, this series fuses Greek and Roman mythology and history, with the antagonists being ancient Roman emperors.

Apollo was HILARIOUS describing his past godly adventures and current frustrations with mortality. However, with each installment, he gained a greater understanding of what it means to be human. Apollo became a much more endearing protagonist as he was continually forced to embrace his human emotions, confront his past, and make sacrifices for others.

Each book featured a few characters from Riordan’s previous series. I enjoyed getting to check in with each beloved character, but they were integrated into the series in a way that didn’t pull focus away from Apollo’s trials. And as always, I appreciate Riordan’s commitment to writing diverse characters.

Although…Rick Riordan WENT PLACES I DID NOT EXPECT IN A MIDDLE GRADE SERIES! But certain YA authors need to take note, because that’s how it’s done (that’s all I can say without spoilers).

The last book was FANTASTIC. Riordan knows how to write an epic and emotional conclusion to a series. I highly recommend this series to anyone who has read Riordan’s previous Greek mythology series and wants more!

Series Review: Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

BOOK STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆.5
Title: Bloodlines
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobooks
Narrator: Emily Shaffer (books 1-6), Alden Ford (books 4-6)
Publisher: Razorbill; Listening Library
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of: Vampire Academy
Content Warnings: rape; body image issues/dieting; teen drinking, smoking, drug use; cults; brainwashing; psychological and physical torture

#1 Bloodlines
Pub. Date: August 22, 2011
Length: 13 hours (421 pages)

#2 The Golden Lily
Pub. Date: June 11, 2012
Length: 12 hours (418 pages)

#3 The Indigo Spell
Pub. Date: February 11, 2013
Length: 12 hours (401 pages)

4. The Fiery Promise
Pub. Date: November 18, 2013
Length: 12 hours (412 pages)

5. Silver Shadows
Pub. Date: July 28, 2014
Length: 11 hours (380 pages)

6. The Ruby Circle
Pub. Date: February 9, 2015
Length: 10 hours (348 pages)

BOOK ONE SYNOPSIS

I wasn’t free of my past, not yet.

Sydney’s blood is special. That’s because she’s an alchemist – one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets – and human lives. But the last encounter Sydney had with vampires got her in deep trouble with the other alchemists. And now with her allegiances in question, her future is on the line.

When Sydney is torn from her bed in the middle of the night, at first she thinks she’s still being punished for her complicated alliance with dhampir Rose Hathaway. But what unfolds is far worse. Jill Dragomir – the sister of Moroi Queen Lissa Dragomir – is in mortal danger, and the Moroi must send her into hiding. To avoid a civil war, Sydney is called upon to act as Jill’s guardian and protector, posing as her roommate in the unlikeliest of places: a human boarding school in Palm Springs, California. The last thing Sydney wants is to be accused of sympathizing with vampires. And now she has to live with one.

The Moroi court believe Jill and Sydney will be safe at Amberwood Prep, but threats, distractions, and forbidden romance lurk both outside – and within – the school grounds. Now that they’re in hiding, the drama is only just beginning.

MY THOUGHTS

Y’all. I really wanted to like these books. I saw many reviews saying that Bloodlines was even better than Vampire Academy. I didn’t buy into the VA hype because I found the series problematic (as I explained in my series review), but I enjoyed the writing enough that I wanted to try this spin off series with the hopes that it would be everything I wanted VA to be.

It wasn’t. Sydney is a BORING protagonist in the first few books. She is too perfect and righteous, obsessed with following rules, doing homework, and wearing beige. She is also obsessed with dieting, counting calories, and her weight, and I thought the way her body image issues were described was problematic for teen readers. The first book also includes another romance with a problematic age gap (what is it with Richelle Mead and normalizing gross age differences in relationships?).

I really liked the introduction of witches into this paranormal universe, and Sydney finally became interesting when she began exploring magic in earnest. I did like Adrian (he was one of my favorite characters from VA), and I supported their romance initially…until it went off the rails. The Alchemists turned out to be much more culty than they appeared in VA, which took the series in some bizarre and unexpected directions.

I almost DNF book 3, and I wish that I had. While I thought book 4 was the best in the series, book 5 was straight up ridiculous, and I only read book 6 so I could put this series behind me for good. I do not ever plan to read anything by Richelle Mead again. After 12 books, I can safely say that I do not support her writing and the problematic elements she includes in books marketed for teens.

Series Review: Wicked by Jennifer L. Armentrout

BOOK STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: Wicked
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Audience: New Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Amy Landon
Publisher: Tantor Media
Source: Library (Libby)
Recommended for fans of: Shadowhunters looking for a steamier romance, Sookie Stackhouse
Content Warnings: kidnapping, drug use, torture

Book 1: Wicked
Pub. Date: December 8, 2014
Length: 12 hours (376 pages)

Book 2: Torn
Pub. Date: July 19, 2016
Length: 10 hours (369 pages)

Book 3: Brave
Pub. Date: December 11, 2017
Length: 11 hours (362 pages)

SYNOPSIS – BOOK 1

Things are about to get Wicked in New Orleans.

Twenty-two year old Ivy Morgan isn’t your average college student. She, and others like her, know humans aren’t the only thing trolling the French Quarter for fun… and for food. Her duty to the Order is her life. After all, four years ago, she lost everything at the hands of the creatures she’d sworn to hunt, tearing her world and her heart apart.

Ren Owens is the last person Ivy expected to enter her rigidly controlled life. He’s six feet and three inches of temptation and swoon-inducing charm. With forest-green eyes and a smile that’s surely left a stream of broken hearts in its wake, he has an uncanny, almost unnatural ability to make her yearn for everything he has to offer. But letting him in is as dangerous as hunting the cold-blooded killers stalking the streets. Losing the boy she loved once before had nearly destroyed her, but the sparking tension that grows between them becomes impossible for Ivy to deny. Deep down, she wants… she needs more than what her duty demands of her, what her past has shaped for her.

But as Ivy grows closer to Ren, she realizes she’s not the only one carrying secrets that could shatter the frail bond between them. There’s something he’s not telling her, and one thing is for certain. She’s no longer sure what is more dangerous to her—the ancient beings threatening to take over the town or the man demanding to lay claim to her heart and her soul.

MY THOUGHTS

I absolutely loved this series. This is the perfect trashy fantasy romance about a secret order of fae hunters. Ivy is the kind of passionate heroine with a secret I love. Ren is ultimate book boyfriend material. Tink is delightful and provides much needed comic relief. I always love a New Orleans setting. The world building is straightforward and interesting, the romance is very steamy, and what the story lacks in depth it makes up for with an engrossing pace and addicting storyline. The twisty, action-packed, cliffhanger ending at the end of book one solidified it as a 5 star read for me.

I did not love the direction book 2 took as much. It took some strange turns that put the characters through hell. Ivy and Ren’s relationship was challenged, but there was still lots of steam.

Book 3 featured great character development, great action, and again, plenty of steam. Ivy struggles to overcome the aftermath of Torn, but Ren and Tink are there to help her through. Ivy has to make some difficult decisions to save the world from the fae, and there are plenty of surprising twists! The ending could’ve been a bit more satisfying, but overall I loved this series and it was just what I needed at the time.

Series Review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

BOOK STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobooks
Narrators: Stephanie Wolf (book 1), Khristine Hvam (books 2 & 3), Emily Shaffer (books 4-6)
Publisher: Razorbill; Listening Library
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of: Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Content Warnings: teen drinking, smoking, drug use; self-harm; slut shaming; student-teacher romance

#1 Vampire Academy
Pub. Date: August 16, 2007
Length: 9 hours (332 pages)

#2 Frostbite
Pub. Date: April 1, 2008
Length: 9 hours (327 pages)

#3 Shadow Kiss
Pub. Date: November 13, 2008
Length: 12 hours (443 pages)

4. Blood Promise
Pub. Date: August 25, 2009
Length: 13 hours (503 pages)

5. Spirit Bound
Pub. Date: May 18, 2010
Length: 13 hours (489 pages)

6. Last Sacrifice
Pub. Date: December 7, 2010
Length: 18 hours (594 pages)

BOOK ONE SYNOPSIS

ONLY A TRUE BEST FRIEND CAN PROTECT YOU FROM YOUR IMMORTAL ENEMIES…

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires – the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.

After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger… and the Strigoi are always close by.

Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever…

MY THOUGHTS

With the resurgence in vampire lit this year, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the popular paranormal series that I missed. Vampire Academy has been very highly rated and recommended. I think I would’ve loved this series if I had read them as a teenager when they were first published, but as an adult, these left something to be desired.

I’ll start with the good. The vampire mythology in this series is super interesting with three types of vampires: Moroi (good, living vampires with magic), Strigoi (evil, dead vampires), and dhampirs (human/vampire hybrids who serve as bodyguards for the Moroi). I loved the MC Rose. She was a bit shallow in the first book, but she is fierce, tough, passionate, and sarcastic. I also appreciate that she is strong, warrior-type MC when so many paranormal series feature a human with a male vampire. I also really like Lissa as a character and the magical bond she and rose share.

HOWEVER. This series features a student-teacher relationship as the primary romance, and I cannot get behind that. It does not matter that he was a young teacher, she was close to graduating, and by the end of the series she was no longer his student. The romance was inappropriate, illegal, and gross, and young adult books should not glorify or normalize student-teacher romances for teen readers.

While I mostly enjoyed the magic system, the adventure, the vampire politics, and the strong characters, I hated the romance, and the storyline took a few strange and convoluted detours. I also was just not interested in the petty high school drama that featured in this story. Read this if you enjoy paranormal romances and missed out on this series during your adolescence, but I do not recommend this series for young readers.

Series Review: Sookie Stackhouse by Charlaine Harris

SERIES STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆.75
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Audience: Adult
Publisher: Ace

Titles & Pub. Dates:

  1. Dead Until Dark (2001)
  2. Living Dead in Dallas 2002)
  3. Club Dead (2003)
  4. Dead to the World (2004)
  5. Dead as a Doornail (2005)
  6. Definitely Dead (2006)
  7. All Together Dead (2007)
  8. From Dead to Worse (2008)
  9. Dead and Gone (2009)
  10. Dead in the Family (2010)
  11. Dead Reckoning (2011)
  12. Deadlocked (2012)
  13. Dead Ever After (2013)

Content Warnings: sexual assault, rape, child molestation, torture, violence, kidnapping, infertility, pregnancy loss, infidelity, and probably more. Expect a lot of triggers going into this series, sorry I didn’t keep track of them all.

SYNOPSIS (Book 1)

Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life-and one of her coworkers checks out….

Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea.

MY THOUGHTS

This series is like cotton candy. Sweet, fluffy, and ridiculously addicting, even if there’s not a lot of substance. I loved the show True Blood, my cousin is a huge fan of the book series, and I’m obsessed with vampire in general, so these books seemed like a perfect fit for me.

Every book has mystery, romance, humor, supernatural drama, and a host of endearing characters. Several plot lines are intense or ridiculous. The series definitely goes in some unexpected directions, but that’s what makes this series so enjoyable.

I love Sookie. I love her sass and no nonsense attitude. She is tough, humble, and independent. I appreciate that she preserves normalcy in her life despite her ever increasing involvement in the supernatural world: she worries about paying bills and maintaining her home; she refuses to quit her job as a waitress; she enjoys suntanning, getting dressed up, and painting her nails; and she never loses her Southern charm and hospitality. I also think it’s hilarious that Sookie never dated anyone before the first book, but throughout the series she goes through a series of passionate supernatural lovers.

This series is so bingeworthy. I listened to the first three audiobooks in fall of 2019 until library holds thwarted my plans, but I powered through the remaining 10 audiobooks in October. I really enjoyed this series on audio.

As much as I enjoyed this series, I was disappointed by the last book. My ship did not sail, and I think the author tried to give satisfying endings to too many characters from throughout the series. Still, I recommend this series if you are looking for a vampire romance to sink your teeth into. I rated each book (except the last book) between 3 and 4 stars, and I give the series 3.75 overall. My favorite was All Together Dead.

Series Review: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

SERIES STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Fantasy/Mythology
Audience: Middle Grade
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion Books
Format: Audiobooks
Source: Library (Libby)

#1 The Sword of Summer
Pub. Date: October 6, 2015
Length: 499 pages (~15 hours)
Narrator: Christopher Guetig

#2 The Hammer of Thor
Pub. Date: October 4, 2016
Length: 459 pages (~11 hours)
Narrator: Kieran Culkin

#3 The Ship of the Dead
Pub. Date: October 3, 2017
Length: 410 pages (~13 hours)
Narrator: Michael Crouch

SYNOPSIS (The Sword of Summer)

Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . . .

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

MY THOUGHTS

Rick Riordan’s books are always so fun, but they tackle serious issues in a way that’s straightforward for kids. In the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, Riordan applies his signature spin to Norse mythology in this hilarious and high stakes adventure with a diverse cast of characters.

The representation in this series is amazing. Magnus, the main hero, was formerly homeless. Samirah is a devout Muslim despite being a Valkyrie and a child of Loki. Hearthstone the elf is deaf and communicates through ASL and rune magic. Alex is a genderfluid, shapeshifting child of Loki who educates Magnus (and readers) about how to respectfully use preferred pronouns. And that’s just the main characters. Rick Riordan may be a straight, white man, but he uses his platform to bring some much-needed diversity to children’s literature.

I do think these books are all longer than they need to be. I got the sense that some obstacles were just thrown into the story to include more retellings of Norse myths, but some scenes just slowed down the overall story. I understand wanting to squeeze as many Norse gods and creatures as possible into this series, but some of them were unnecessary.

The conclusion to this series was fantastic. The ending was so clever and had such a good message! The best thing about this series is how the characters inspire kids to be proud of who they are. If you are a fan of Percy Jackson or Riordan’s other series, you will enjoy this Magnus Chase too.

Series Review: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

SERIES STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆☆1/2
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Publisher: Image Comics

Series & Pub. Dates:
Vol. 1 (#1-6), 10/23/2012
Vol. 2 (#7-12), 6/19/2013
Vol. 3 (#13-18), 3/19/2014
Vol. 4 (#19-24), 12/17/2014
Vol. 5 (#25-30), 9/9/2015
Vol. 6 (#31-36), 6/29/2016
Vol. 7 (#37-42), 4/4/2017
Vol. 8 (#43-48), 12/27/2017
Vol. 9 (#49-54), 10/2/2018

Content Warnings: language, sex, nudity, violence, human trafficking (including children), substance abuse, domestic violence, miscarriage, death… I might be missing stuff, there’s a lot

SYNOPSIS (Vol. 1)

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

MY THOUGHTS

Saga is a wild and weird adventure through the galaxy. Narrated by Hazel (who is born at the beginning of the story), Saga tells the story of her family’s journey to find safety and evade pursuers from both sides of a galactic conflict who view her parents as traitors and her existence as an abomination.

These comics are FOR ADULTS. I was a little uncomfortable with the graphic visuals and mature subject matter when I first started the series, but the storytelling is so dang good I kept coming back for more, averting my eyes from the images I didn’t want to see.

I was continually amazed by how much each new installment expanded upon the already fantastic worldbuilding and developed the characters emotionally. You will grow to love this little family of misfits and an array of side characters. On top of their fugitive status, they deal with everyday family issues in profound and relatable ways as Hazel grows up. Saga tugged on readers’ emotions from the beginning and was never afraid of crossing lines, but the last few installments in the series were particularly heartbreaking.

This is a bold, bizarre, and bingeworthy series with no boundaries, and I highly recommend it for sci-fi and fantasy readers looking to give comics a try. Fingers crossed the series returns soon, because I cannot get over that last cliffhanger!

Interested in reading this series? Check out my full review for Vol. 1!